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Operational Data Store vs. Data Warehouse

One of the main problems with large amounts of data, especially in this age of data-driven tools and near-instant results, is how to store the data. With proper storage also comes the challenge of keeping the data updated, and this is the reason why organizations focus on solutions that will help make data processing faster and more efficient. For many, a digital transformation is in their roadmap, thanks in large part to the changes brought about by the global COVID-19 pandemic. The problem is that organizations often assume that it’s similar to traditional change initiatives, which can’t be any further from the truth. There are a number of challenges to prepare for in digital transformations, however, and without proper planning, non-unified data storage systems and systems of record implemented through the years can slow down or even hinder the process.

Businesses have relied on two main solutions for data storage for many years: traditional data warehouses and operational data stores (ODS). These key data structures provide assistance when it comes to boosting business intelligence so that the business can make sound corporate decisions based on data. Before considering which one will work for your business, it’s important to understand the main differences between the two.

What is a Data Warehouse?

Data warehousing is a common practice because a data warehouse is designed to support business intelligence tools and activities. It’s subject-oriented so data is centered on customers, products, sales, or other subjects that contribute to the business bottom line. Because data comes from a multitude of sources, a data warehouse is also designed to consolidate large amounts of data in a variety of formats, including flat files, legacy database management systems, and relational database management systems. It’s considered an organization’s single source of truth because it houses historical records built through time, which could become invaluable as a source of actionable insights.

One of the main disadvantages of a data warehouse is its non-volatile nature. Non-volatile data is read-only and, therefore, not frequently updated or deleted over time. This leads to some time variance, which means that a data warehouse only stores a time series of periodic data snapshots that show the state of data during specific periods. As such, data loading and data retrieval are the most vital operations for a data warehouse.

What is an Operational Data Store?

Forward-thinking companies turn to an operational data store to resolve the issues with data warehousing, primarily, the issue of always keeping data up-to-date. Similar to a data warehouse, an ODS can aggregate data from multiple sources and report across multiple systems of record to provide a more comprehensive view of the data. It’s essentially a staging area that can receive operational data from transactional sources and can be queried directly. This allows data analytics tools to query ODS data as it’s received from the respective source systems. This offloads the burden from the transactional systems by only providing access to current data that’s queried in an integrated manner. This makes an ODS the ideal solution for those looking for near-real time data that’s processed quickly and efficiently.

Traditional ODS solutions, however, typically suffer from high latency because they are based on either relational databases or disk-based NoSQL databases. These systems simply can’t handle large amounts of data and provide high performance at the same time, which is a common requirement of most modern applications. The limited scalability of traditional systems also leads to performance issues when multiple users access the data store all at the same time. As such, traditional ODS solutions are incapable of providing real-time API services for accessing systems of record.

A Paradigm Shift

As modern real-time digital applications replace previously offline services, companies are going through a paradigm shift and venturing beyond what traditional data storage systems can offer. This has led to the rise of a new breed of ODS solutions that Gartner refers to as digital integration hubs. It’s a cost-effective solution because it doesn’t require a rip-and-replace if you already have a traditional ODS in place. Adopting a digital integration hub can be as simple as augmenting your current system with the missing layers, including the microservices API, smart cache, and event-driven architecture.

While sticking with a data warehouse or traditional ODS may not necessarily hurt your business, the benefits of modernization via a digital integration hub are too great to ignore. Significant improvements in throughput, availability, and scalability will help organizations become more agile so they can drive innovation quicker, helping their industry and pushing the limits of technology further to open up possibilities never before discovered.

How the Pandemic is Changing the Data Analytics Outsourcing Industry

While media pundits have largely focused on the impact of COVID-19 as far as human health is concerned, it hasn’t been particularly good for the health of automated systems either. As cybersecurity budgets plummet in the face of dwindling finances, computer criminals have taken the opportunity to increase attacks against high value targets.

In June, an online antique store suffered a data breach that contained over 3 million records, and it’s likely that a number of similar attacks have simply gone unpublished. Fortunately, data scientists are hard at work developing new methods of fighting back against these kinds of breaches. Budget constraints and a lack of personnel as a result of the pandemic continues to be a problem, but automation has helped to assuage the issue to some degree.

AI-Driven Data Storage Systems

Big data experts have long promoted the cloud as an ideal metaphor for the way that data is stored remotely, but as a result few people today consider the physical locations that this information is stored at. All data has to be located on some sort of physical storage device. Even so-called serverless apps have to be distributed from a server unless they’re fully deployed using P2P services.

Since software can never truly replace hardware, researchers are looking at refining the various abstraction layers that exist between servers and the clients who access them. Data warehousing software has enabled computer scientists to construct centralized data storage solutions that look like traditional disk locations. This gives users the ability to securely interact with resources that are encrypted automatically.

Background services based on artificial intelligence monitor virtual data warehouse locations, which gives specialists the freedom to conduct whatever analytics they deem necessary. In some cases, a data warehouse can even anonymize information as it’s stored, which can streamline workflows involved with the analysis process.

While this level of automation has proven useful, it’s still subject to some of the problems that have occurred as a result of the pandemic. Traditional supply chains are in shambles and a large percentage of technical workers are now telecommuting. If there’s a problem with any existing big data plans, then there’s often nobody around to do any work in person.

Living with Shifting Digital Priorities

Many businesses were in the process of outsourcing their data operations even before the pandemic, and the current situation is speeding this up considerably. Initial industry estimates had projected steady growth numbers for the data analytics sector through 2025. While the current figures might not be quite as bullish, it’s likely that sales of outsourcing contracts will remain high.

That being said, firms are also shifting a large percentage of their IT spending dollars into cybersecurity projects. A recent survey found that 37 percent of business leaders said they were already going to cut their IT department budgets. The same study found that 28 percent of businesses are going to move at least some part of their data analytics programs abroad.

Those companies that can’t find an attractive outsourcing contract might start to patch their remote systems over a virtual private network. Unfortunately, this kind of technology has been strained to some degree in recent months. The virtual servers that power VPNs are flooded with requests, which in turn has brought them down in some instances. Neural networks, which utilize deep learning technology to improve themselves as time goes on, have proven more than capable of predicting when these problems are most likely to arise.

That being said, firms that deploy this kind of technology might find that it still costs more to work with automated technology on-premise compared to simply investing in an outsourcing program that works with these kinds of algorithms at an outside location.

Saving Money in the Time of Corona

Experts from Think Big Analytics pointed out how specialist organizations can deal with a much wider array of technologies than a small business ever could. Since these companies specialize in providing support for other organizations, they have a tendency to offer support for a large number of platforms.

These representatives recently opined that they could provide support for NoSQL, Presto, Apache Spark and several other emerging platforms at the same time. Perhaps most importantly, these organizations can work with Hadoop and other traditional data analysis languages.

Staffers working on data mining operations have long relied on languages like Hadoop and R to write scripts that they later use to automate the process of collecting and analyzing data. By working with an organization that already supports a language that companies rely on, they can avoid the need of changing up their existing operations.

This can help to drastically reduce the cost of migration, which is extremely important since many of the firms that need to migrate to a remote system are already suffering from budget problems. Assuming that some issues related to the pandemic continue to plague businesses for some time, it’s likely that these budget constraints will force IT departments to consider a migration even if they would have otherwise relied solely on a traditional colocation arrangement.

IT department staffers were already moving away from many rare platforms even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, however, so this shouldn’t be as much of a herculean task as it sounds. For instance, the KNIME Analytics Platform has increased in popularity exponentially since it’s release in 2006. The fact that it supports over 1,000 plug-in modules has made it easy for smaller businesses to move toward the platform.

The road ahead isn’t going to be all that pleasant, however. COBOL and other antiquated languages still rule the roost at many governmental big data processing centers. At the same time, some small businesses have never even been able to put a big data plan into play in the first place. As the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the world’s economy, however, it’s likely that there will be no shortage of organizations continuing to migrate to more secure third-party platforms backed by outsourcing contracts.

Simplify Vendor Onboarding with Automated Data Integration

Vendor onboarding is a key business process that involves collecting and processing large data volumes from one or multiple vendors. Business users need vendor information in a standardized format to use it for subsequent data processes. However, consolidating and standardizing data for each new vendor requires IT teams to write code for custom integration flows, which can be a time-consuming and challenging task.

In this blog post, we will talk about automated vendor onboarding and how it is far more efficient and quicker than manually updating integration flows.

Problems with Manual Integration for Vendor Onboarding

During the onboarding process, vendor data needs to be extracted, validated, standardized, transformed, and loaded into the target system for further processing. An integration task like this involves coding, updating, and debugging manual ETL pipelines that can take days and even weeks on end.

Every time a vendor comes on board, this process is repeated and executed to load the information for that vendor into the unified business system. Not just this, but because vendor data is often received from disparate sources in a variety of formats (CSV, Text, Excel), these ETL pipelines frequently break and require manual fixes.

All this effort is not suitable, particularly for large-scale businesses that onboard hundreds of vendors each month. Luckily, there is a faster alternative available that involves no code-writing.

Automated Data Integration

The manual onboarding process can be automated using purpose-built data integration tools.

To help you better understand the advantages, here is a step-by-step guide on how automated data integration for vendor onboarding works:

  1. Vendor data is retrieved from heterogeneous sources such as databases, FTP servers, and web APIs through built-in connectors available in the solution.
  2. The data from each file is validated by passing it through a set of predefined quality rules – this step helps in eliminating records with missing, duplicate, or incorrect data.
  3. Transformations are applied to convert input data into the desired output format or screen vendors based on business criteria. For example, if the vendor data is stored in Excel sheets and the business uses SQL Server for data storage, then the data has to be mapped to the relevant fields in the SQL Server database, which is the destination.
  4. The standardized, validated data is then loaded into a unified enterprise database that you can use as the source of information for business processes. In some cases, this can be a staging database where you can perform further filtering and aggregation to build a consolidated vendor database.
  5. This entire ETL pipeline (Step 1 through Step 4) can then be automated through event-based or time-based triggers in a workflow. For instance, you may want to run the pipeline once every day, or once a new file/data point is available in your FTP server.

Why Build a Consolidated Database for Vendors?

Once the ETL pipeline runs, you will end up with a consolidated database with complete vendor information. The main benefit of having a unified database is that it would have filtered information regarding vendors.

Most businesses have a strict process for screening vendors that follows a set of predefined rules. For example, you may want to reject vendors that have a poor credit history automatically. With manual data integration, you would need to perform this filtering by writing code. Automated data integration allows you to apply pre-built filters directly within your ETL pipeline to flag or remove vendors with a credit score lower than the specified threshold.

This is just one example; you can perform a wide range of tasks at this level in your ETL pipeline including vendor scoring (calculated based on multiple fields in your data), filtering (based on rules applied to your data), and data aggregation (to add measures to your data) to build a robust vendor database for decision-making and subsequent processes.

Conclusion

Automated vendor onboarding offers cost-and-time benefits to your organization. Making use of enterprise-grade data integration tools ensures a seamless business-to-vendor data exchange without the need for reworking and upgrading your ETL pipelines.

Interview: Does Business Intelligence benefit from Cloud Data Warehousing?

Interview with Ross Perez, Senior Director, Marketing EMEA at Snowflake

Read this article in German:
“Profitiert Business Intelligence vom Data Warehouse in der Cloud?”

Does Business Intelligence benefit from Cloud Data Warehousing?

Ross Perez is the Senior Director, Marketing EMEA at Snowflake. He leads the Snowflake marketing team in EMEA and is charged with starting the discussion about analytics, data, and cloud data warehousing across EMEA. Before Snowflake, Ross was a product marketer at Tableau Software where he founded the Iron Viz Championship, the world’s largest and longest running data visualization competition.

Data Science Blog: Ross, Business Intelligence (BI) is not really a new trend. In 2019/2020, making data available for the whole company should not be a big thing anymore. Would you agree?

BI is definitely an old trend, reporting has been around for 50 years. People are accustomed to seeing statistics and data for the company at large, and even their business units. However, using BI to deliver analytics to everyone in the organization and encouraging them to make decisions based on data for their specific area is relatively new. In a lot of the companies Snowflake works with, there is a huge new group of people who have recently received access to self-service BI and visualization tools like Tableau, Looker and Sigma, and they are just starting to find answers to their questions.

Data Science Blog: Up until today, BI was just about delivering dashboards for reporting to the business. The data warehouse (DWH) was something like the backend. Today we have increased demand for data transparency. How should companies deal with this demand?

Because more people in more departments are wanting access to data more frequently, the demand on backend systems like the data warehouse is skyrocketing. In many cases, companies have data warehouses that weren’t built to cope with this concurrent demand and that means that the experience is slow. End users have to wait a long time for their reports. That is where Snowflake comes in: since we can use the power of the cloud to spin up resources on demand, we can serve any number of concurrent users. Snowflake can also house unlimited amounts of data, of both structured and semi-structured formats.

Data Science Blog: Would you say the DWH is the key driver for becoming a data-driven organization? What else should be considered here?

Absolutely. Without having all of your data in a single, highly elastic, and flexible data warehouse, it can be a huge challenge to actually deliver insight to people in the organization.

Data Science Blog: So much for the theory, now let’s talk about specific use cases. In general, it matters a lot whether you are storing and analyzing e.g. financial data or machine data. What do we have to consider for both purposes?

Financial data and machine data do look very different, and often come in different formats. For instance, financial data is often in a standard relational format. Data like this needs to be able to be easily queried with standard SQL, something that many Hadoop and noSQL tools were unable to provide. Luckily, Snowflake is an ansi-standard SQL data warehouse so it can be used with this type of data quite seamlessly.

On the other hand, machine data is often semi-structured or even completely unstructured. This type of data is becoming significantly more common with the rise of IoT, but traditional data warehouses were very bad at dealing with it since they were optimized for relational data. Semi-structured data like JSON, Avro, XML, Orc and Parquet can be loaded into Snowflake for analysis quite seamlessly in its native format. This is important, because you don’t want to have to flatten the data to get any use from it.

Both types of data are important, and Snowflake is really the first data warehouse that can work with them both seamlessly.

Data Science Blog: Back to the common business use case: Creating sales or purchase reports for the business managers, based on data from ERP-systems such as Microsoft or SAP. Which architecture for the DWH could be the right one? How many and which database layers do you see as necessary?

The type of report largely does not matter, because in all cases you want a data warehouse that can support all of your data and serve all of your users. Ideally, you also want to be able to turn it off and on depending on demand. That means that you need a cloud-based architecture… and specifically Snowflake’s innovative architecture that separates storage and compute, making it possible to pay for exactly what you use.

Data Science Blog: Where would you implement the main part of the business logic for the report? In the DWH or in the reporting tool? Does it matter which reporting tool we choose?

The great thing is that you can choose either. Snowflake, as an ansi-Standard SQL data warehouse, can support a high degree of data modeling and business logic. But you can also utilize partners like Looker and Sigma who specialize in data modeling for BI. We think it’s best that the customer chooses what is right for them.

Data Science Blog: Snowflake enables organizations to store and manage their data in the cloud. Does it mean companies lose control over their storage and data management?

Customers have complete control over their data, and in fact Snowflake cannot see, alter or change any aspect of their data. The benefit of a cloud solution is that customers don’t have to manage the infrastructure or the tuning – they decide how they want to store and analyze their data and Snowflake takes care of the rest.

Data Science Blog: How big is the effort for smaller and medium sized companies to set up a DWH in the cloud? Does this have to be an expensive long-term project in every case?

The nice thing about Snowflake is that you can get started with a free trial in a few minutes. Now, moving from a traditional data warehouse to Snowflake can take some time, depending on the legacy technology that you are using. But Snowflake itself is quite easy to set up and very much compatible with historical tools making it relatively easy to move over.

New Sponsor: Snowflake

Dear readers,

we have good news again: Now we welcome snowflake as our new Data Science Blog Sponsor! So we are booked out for the moment regarding sponsoring. Snowflake provides data warehousing for the cloud and has an unique data, access and feature model, the snowflake. Now we are looking forward to editorial contributions by snowflake.

Snowflake is the only data warehouse built for the cloud. Snowflake delivers the performance, concurrency and simplicity needed to store and analyze all data available to an organization in one location. Snowflake’s technology combines the power of data warehousing, the flexibility of big data platforms, the elasticity of the cloud, and live data sharing at a fraction of the cost of traditional solutions. Snowflake: Your data, no limits. Find out more at snowflake.net.

Furthermore, snowflake will also sponsor our Data Leader Days 2018 in November in Berlin!